Injuries are unavoidable in high-risk industries, but there is a limit to how much suffering workers should be made to shoulder.
Production itself does not kill. Ignorance of safety rules, poor equipment, inadequate safety awareness and poor knowledge of life-saving and emergency procedures do claim lives.
So do corruption and bureaucracy.
Coal mine explosions have claimed the lion's share of the death toll from industrial accidents, and corruption is certainly involved.
Thousands of local officials at various levels have been found to have business interests in coal mining. Some of them love money so much they have stopped caring about the lives of coal miners, and disregard State rules on work safety.
In some cases, even when the danger of a gas explosion is diagnosed as quite likely, miners are still driven down to work.
The State Council has issued many documents to enhance workplace safety. But bureaucracy prevents officials from paying due attention.
It is in these circumstances that the State Administration of Safe Production and Supervision (SASPS) announced on Wednesday that it would hold top local officials responsible for workplace safety.
An official from the administration said whatever problems there are, they will be solved when local governors, mayors and county magistrates exert their influence for good.
Statistics indicate the total number of workplace accidents nationwide dropped by 10.7 per cent and the death toll by 7.1 per cent in 2005, compared to the previous year. The decrease has been attributed to the attention provincial governors and Party secretaries at that level have paid to the problems of workplace safety.
The local leader responsibility system follows from the argument that the power in the hands of these officials is enough to deter corrupt individuals from getting involved in coal mines, and puts pressure on those in immediate charge of them to do something substantial to tighten control of production safety.
It sounds, and indeed is, workable for the time being, and it is quite understandable for the administration to adopt such a measure in the face of the serious workplace safety situation.
But what if these local leaders, burdened with too many responsibilities for workplace safety, environmental protection, family planning and so on are bewildered and do not know where to focus their attention?
So something else is needed to cut down the number of workplace accidents.
The SASPS announced on Tuesday that more than 30,000 mines, chemical plants, fireworks producers, construction units and explosive factories which had not received safety certificates by the end of last year will be shut down.
The administration has also pledged to raise safety standards in high-risk industries this year, and eliminate those that are not qualified.
A stricter licensing mechanism will no doubt help improve workplace safety.
We hope the mechanism will be optimized in such a manner in the near future that everyone in whatever position is encouraged to perform his or her duty.
As a result, the institutional organs designed to control workplace safety at various levels will function in a sound manner.
(China Daily February 17, 2006)